People & Places
Travelling with Kids: Where to Go and What to Pack
October 05, 2021
Wanderlust doesn’t just stop when you have kids. In fact, in some cases, it intensifies. You want to pass that love of travel onto your kid, to show them the complexity and diversity the world holds. You also need a break occasionally; parenting is challenging work, and a relaxing vacation away from the confines of the family home can be a salve in hectic times.
But travelling before kids versus after kids? They’re two completely different beasts. Before kids, all you had to worry about was the backpack on your back. After kids, it’s more of a spinning plates act – as you keep them from danger, clean them when they get messy, entertain them when they’re bored, feed them when they’re hungry, and attempt to navigate the roller coaster of emotions a kid on vacation feels.
In this post, we’re offering a few choices for kid-friendly destinations, as well as packing tips for kids of different ages.
Our overarching advice: don’t wait until your kid’s fully grown to book a trip. You can absolutely pull off an enriching, enlivening, relaxing vacation with a little traveller in tow. And, despite the challenges, you can even travel light while you’re doing it.
Kid-Friendly Destinations Around the World
What exactly makes a destination “kid-friendly”? In an effort to come up with clear reasons for our choices below, we have generated a few essential criteria that we think constitute kid-friendliness. They are:
- Temperateness: This isn’t a total deal-breaker. But if you’ve ever tried to travel with kids through sweltering heat or chilling cold, you know that it adds a layer of difficulty.
- Access to fun activities: It’s far easier to keep kids diverted and entertained when there are fun activities around.
- A culture that embraces youngsters: This criterion is mainly aimed at party destinations, or destinations geared toward the adult experience (looking at you, Ibiza, Tijuana and Pattaya). It’s better to find a destination where the culture embraces and accommodates youngsters.
- Safety: And of course, safety is a key concern when travelling with kids. While it’s okay (probably even edifying) to show kids less affluent parts of the world, it’s probably best to keep them from precarious, unstable or potentially dangerous locales.
With those criteria in mind, here are a few of our top picks for kid-friendly destinations.
Toronto is Canada’s largest city, and a fantastic launchpad for trips throughout the province and country. Within the city limits, you’ll find activities like the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum), which has a fully-assembled T-rex made with mostly real fossils – perfect for dinosaur-obsessed kids. You’ll also find Canada’s wonderland, a fixed amusement park with several kid-friendly rides. If you go in the winter, pack for warmth with our merino wool long sleeve shirt and merino wool sweatpants for men.
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Los Angeles has two major things going for it: The La Brea Tar Pits and Disneyland. The former is one of the world’s most famous locations for spotting fossils, and the latter doesn’t really need an introduction. Plus, LA isn’t just for kids; it has several activities, restaurants and bars geared toward the adult experience.
Tokyo is a wonderland of colourful lights, technological displays, serene parks and enthralling activities. Head to Akihabara, the epicentre of manga, anime and video games, to entertain even the tech-savviest kid (but note: some sights are inappropriate, so do a little research in advance). Spend a leisurely day in Shinjuku Gyoen, a sprawling park filled with gardens and greenery. Or head to one of the city’s many kid-friendly “onsens” – essentially public pools, but nicer.
In truth, several Southeast Asian destinations are great for kids. But Bali is a beautiful middle-ground between parental relaxation and kid-centric activities. There are stunning beaches to lounge by, dense forests filled with exciting (and safe) wildlife, zoos, parks, monkey sanctuaries and marine parks.
Brussels satisfies several of our criteria: it’s temperate, safe and has several museums and attractions that kids would enjoy. But the real pull here is the food. Three of Brussels’ most famous dishes – French fries, waffles and chocolate – are high on most kids’ favourite foods list. If you’re travelling with a picky eater, you’ll find lots to love in Brussels.
Bolzano is an Italian city situated in the Dolomites, a sprawling mountain range in Northern Italy. During winter, the city is a launchpad for several ski resorts. And in summer, it’s an excellent destination for hiking and scenery. The region boasts kid-friendly food options like pizza and pasta, but with a distinctly German and Swiss flair that may appeal to adult foodies. Because of the seasonal fluctuations in temperature, pack merino wool travel clothing to stay comfortable year-round.
Auckland (and Hobbiton)
Auckland is New Zealand’s biggest city, resting at the tip of the North Island. In its own right, Auckland is amazing; the weather's great, the people are friendly, and the surrounding sights are magnificent. But if you’re travelling with kids, don’t miss the opportunity to tie in a trip to Hobbiton, a replica of the Lord of the Rings shire built for the eponymous Peter Jackson movies. Hobbiton is enchanting for both kids and adults.
Don’t discount Kenya just because it’s a little off the beaten path. The country is safe, culturally rich, scenically beautiful and filled with exciting activities. Most Western travellers to the capital city of Nairobi opt to leave for a safari. If you’re going that route, we can recommend travel + Leisure's top pick for African safaris, Micato Safaris, a family-run operation that’s respectful of the land and eminently knowledgeable about Kenyan culture and wildlife. All that adventuring can get muddy, so pack wipes (see below), and check out our post on how to wash merino wool while travelling.
Whenever we craft a list like this, we’re distinctly aware of what we didn’t include. There are several excellent options for family travel worldwide – far too many to include here. That said, if you have any burning recommendations, please leave them in the comments section below.
Packing Tips for Travelling with Kids
Every successful trip starts with smart packing. That’s doubly true when you add kids to the mix. As you pack for your trip with kids, think sustenance, entertainment, necessities, cleanliness and comfort.
Because “kids” is a broad term, we’ve broken this section up according to age. We’ll offer a few packing tips for toddlers (0-3-years old), pre-school-aged kids (3-5-years old, roughly) and grade school-aged kids (5+ years old). Finally, we’ve included a section for the parents, where we offer some advice for packing for your own convenience.
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This is either the best or worst age to travel with. On the plus side, the 0-3 crowd aren’t generally mobile or fussy enough to cause real trouble (at least before their “terrible two’s”). But they also require constant monitoring for necessities like food and diaper changes.
Some parents love travelling with kids this age; others aren’t so keen. We’ll leave it in your capable hands to determine whether world travel is suitable for your toddler. In any case, the must-pack items for toddlers are:
- Treats: Think of treats as bargaining chips when your kid gets temperamental. Depending on their age, these treat foods will vary. Pack just enough to get you firmly situated at your destination, at which point you can shop for more.
- Collapsible Bottles/Sippy Cups: Collapsible bottles and sippy cups fit neatly within luggage and are indispensable for feeding milk or other drinks in transit.
- Extra Clothes: Kids get very messy, especially while travelling. Fit a few extra outfits in your luggage for last-minute changes if they make a mess.
- Toiletry and Medical Essentials: Sanitizing wipes, baby aspirin, Benadryl, band-aids, etc., are all worthwhile essentials to have on hand. But don’t worry too much: if you forget anything, most pharmacies around the world will stock the essentials.
- A Portable Pump and/or Nursing Top: If your kid is still breastfeeding, consider packing a portable pump or nursing top for convenient/private feeding.
- “Getting Your Bearings” Diapers: Pack enough diapers to get your bearings in an unfamiliar place, at which time you can shop for more.
If your kid is older than a toddler, you can move on to packing for…
Pack a few of the items mentioned above (a collapsible sippy cup, toiletry and medical essentials, and extra clothes) for your pre-school-aged traveller, but add a few extras. Ages three to five are rambunctious; kids are starting to gain confidence, come out of their shell and – frankly – raise a bit of hell. Therefore, parents travelling with pre-school-aged kids benefit from diversions – anything to keep your kid occupied during the duller moments of a trip abroad.
- A Tablet: It’s understandable if parents want to limit screen time. But for the duller moments of a trip, a simple tablet or phone loaded with videos or games can be a life-saver.
- Books: Bring books for your kids to spend time with when they get bored. As creature comforts, consider bringing familiar books that you read at home.
- Sanitizing Wipes: We know we mentioned it above in the toddler section, but we just want to emphasize the importance of sanitizing wipes when travelling with pre-school-aged kids. Kids touch everything – bus poles, store windows, cobblestones, elevator buttons, strangers’ dogs, the contents of your luggage, and, of course, their own mouths. That’s a great deal of cross-contamination, so it’s wise to carry a healthy supply of sanitizing wipes. For more travel cleanliness tips, visit our blog post on staying fresh when travelling.
- Something Comforting from Home: It can be challenging for a young kid to leave their literal comfort zone. As such, bring a memento from home, like a favourite stuffed animal or blanket.
If your kids are already in school and have graduated past needing diapers, wipes and blankies, consider the following…
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In truth, many of the packed items listed above are still great ideas for grade-school-aged kids. Kids five and up will still enjoy a tablet or book to keep them busy, treats to keep them from tantrums, and comforting items to remind them of home. Additionally, consider packing:
- Games: A simple pack of cards or portable Scrabble set gets a lot of mileage on a trip with kids. It helps structure those unfilled evenings when everyone’s sitting around the hotel room.
- A Drawing Pad: At this age, kids crave self-expression. They have several thoughts and ideas brimming in their heads and relish the opportunity to externalize them. A simple drawing pad is perfect for expression – especially when kids are surrounded by new sights and scenes to draw.
- Books Pertinent to Your Destination: If you’re travelling to Italy, pack a book about Italy. If you’re on a Kenyan safari, pack an informational book about animals. Insider has a great list of books about different cultures if you need some inspiration.
Finally, with the kids all packed up, you can turn your attention to you.
Packing for Yourself
Our packing guides on this blog are a great place to start thinking about packing for yourself. You can still travel (relatively) light on trips with kids by limiting your own load.
As usual, we need to plug merino wool clothing, not just because it’s our forte, but because it really helps travellers pack light – which is especially important for parents travelling with kids. Unbound’s mens wool underwear is compact and comfortable, and you only need two or three pairs for a trip, since they stay fresh for a very long time. And our new merino wool polo is a versatile item that you can dress up or down, depending on whether you're enjoying a fancy family dinner or a relaxed afternoon by the pool. With all the extra items you’ve packed for the kid, it pays to save space with your own packing, and merino wool helps you do that.
Parents who are avid travellers often have several self-devised hacks, and we want to hear yours. If you have any packing tips that you’d like to share with us, comment below.